Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen

By James Goss

Rating: 2 stars

This is based on a Douglas Adams unmade script treatment, which Adams himself then recycled into the third Hitch-hikers’ book, book: Life, The Universe and Everything. The plot involves killer robots, xenophobic aliens, cosmic plots and cricket. I didn’t particularly enjoy the book, mostly because it felt very much like fanfic of The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. It doesn’t really feel like a Who story, and the characterisation of both the Doctor and Romana feels off, particularly their internal monologues. There are loads of asides that felt much more like some of Adams’ wild asides in Hitch-hikers’ than anything that fits into the Doctor Who universe.

There are several sections that deal with invasions, massacres and tyrants, and they all have a jolly, slightly ironic tone to them which doesn’t really sit well with me at all. There’s also references to another unmade Douglas Adams story, Shada, which seems like a lot for the casual reader to take in (although I’m not sure how many casual readers would pick this up).

Not awful – there were bits that made me laugh out loud, almost despite myself – but definitely not one that I’d recommend to anyone except completists.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785941054
Publisher: BBC Books
Year of publication: 2018

The Angel of the Crows

By Katherine Addison

Rating: 5 stars

This Holmes-inspired story wears its influences very clearly on its sleeve, even siting its angelic detective at 221 (not 221b!) Baker Street. In a world where angels are tied to individual buildings, or have Fallen, and wreck devastation on whole countries, Crow is unusual (unique?) in that he is free to wander the city of London and offers his services as a private consulting detective as the Angel of London as a whole. Into his world comes Dr Watson Doyle, wounded by an attack of a Fallen angel in Afghanistan, and Doyle soon ends up helping Crow in his investigations.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! As I say, it wears its influences clear on its sleeve, and most of Crow and Doyle’s adventures are clearly based on the first three Sherlock Holmes novels, with a few based on the short stories. Into the mix is also added Jack the Ripper, as Crow searches, increasingly desperately, for the famous killer.

There’s a pretty wide fantasy element to the world that Addison has created here. In addition to angels, most other creatures of folklore and fantasy are present as well, from werewolves and vampires to hell-hounds and fetches. I love how all of these have integrated into society and are just part of everyday life. We don’t get a huge amount of detail – although vampires make a fairly robust appearance – but they’re just there, as part of the world.

Crow is a much more sympathetic and, indeed, empathetic character than other versions of Sherlock Holmes – especially the Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation, where he explicitly calls himself a sociopath. This iteration has an irrepressible curiosity about humanity (Crow regularly watches Doyle eat, as an activity that he can’t partake in) and while eccentric, is a pleasure to spend time with.

Dr Doyle is also an interesting creation, coming back from Afghanistan with multiple secrets. At least one of those took me entirely by surprise. At some point, I’m going to have to reread the book to see if there’s any clues left for the observant reader that I had missed.

Some people might complain about just how close the mysteries are to the Conan Doyle canon, with added supernatural elements, but I actually really enjoyed that. My memories of the Holmes stories aren’t that strong, so it’s nice seeing how Addison works in the additional elements to them and the end is also usually a surprise. There’s a lot of Easter eggs for the Holmes fan to find here.

Another of Addison’s supernatural elements that I really liked was the idea of how the angels are tied to their habitations and how their names reflect that, and that to lose that involves returning to the realm of the Nameless – angels without distinct personalities that Crow implies have a sort of hive mind, without any distinct self-awareness. It’s a fascinating idea, and while Addison doesn’t really do much with it, other than describe it, if there are more Crow and Doyle books to come (which I fervently hope there are), that’s certainly somewhere that she could go.

So while the stories that Addison tells may be familiar, her detective is wonderful, and the world she’s created is intriguing and I loved every minute I spent in it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781089101
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2021

Monday, Monday

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

It took a while to figure out what this clever little graphic novel was doing, and once I did realise, I had to go back and re-read it as soon as I’d finished it. Each of its four chapters (issues) tells the story of the same day in the life of the Metropolitan Police, from four different points of view. First we see series regular DI Stephanopoulos’ day, as she takes over an active operation from an injured colleague, finding it not working as smoothly as it should, and worrying about corruption.

The second chapter is interesting because it not only has Nightingale’s perspective in the present, as he leads a short course for officers on detecting vestigia and when to call in the Folly, but we get flashbacks to his youth, both in his school days, and his service in the second world war. Which reminds me – we know that Nightingale fought in WW2, but this flashback suggests that his true youth was in the early part of the twentieth century and he may have had a hand in the Great War too, despite the best intentions of his headmaster. There’s also a lovely sequence to contrast this, as Nightingale looks after Peter’s new children during a childcare crisis – a side to him that we’ve not seen before.

The third chapter starts with Peter dealing with new parenthood (twins, no less!) and then shows how he fits into Stephanopoulos’ investigation. There’s a lovely little section near the start with Peter at home with the twins where he gets out a measuring tape and tries to analyse at what point they start to cry when separated from each other. It’s as pure Peter Grant as you can get and a lovely little aside that had me grinning to myself. The military foxes also make a return, as they are now providing protection for the twins from, amongst others, unauthorised personnel, ne’er do wells, intruders and, of course, cats.

The final chapter ties it all together, as it follows Abigail and Foxglove in their own little adventure, and discover how it intersects with what the others have been doing. While much of whole graphic novel is wordless, it’s much more evident in this last one, as it leans heavily on the art to tell the story, quite successfully, too.

It’s a nice storytelling idea and rewards re-reads. Random little asides and what had seemed to be artistic non sequiturs that make sense in context of what we find out later on as we integrate them into a fuller picture. And, of course, I’m always keen to find out more about Nightingale’s past.

The artist has changed again for this volume, bringing it more closely in style to the earlier work, which I enjoyed more, so this felt more familiar and comfortable to me than the last few volumes.

A fun story here, and one that ties into the wider mythos of Aaronovitch’s world. The comics are good, but, as always, I look forward to the next novel in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781787736269
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2021

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

By Charlie N. Holmberg

Rating: 4 stars

Maire is a baker who has no memory of her past, but who can put her emotions into her creations. When marauders invade her village, she is sold into slavery and bought by the mysterious Allemas and forced to create nonsensical things for him – gingerbread houses, size altering cakes and the like. And she’s visited by the mysterious spirit Fyel who helps her to start remembering her past.

A friend loaned me this after I’d recommended to her T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, because of the baking connection, although the two books are pretty different in feel and tone. Maire’s ability with baking is very different to Mona’s, as she imbues emotions into her creations rather than influencing the baked goods themselves.

While it’s not something that makes me stay away from books, I’ve become much more sensitive to slavery as a part of worldbuilding, or part of stories. It’s not something that I like at all, and so that aspect of the book was difficult for me. But it was later subsumed by the mystery of Maire’s past and what Allemas was up to.

I thought I’d figured out where the book was going fairly early on, and while I got the general area right, I thought that (very minor spoiler) it was going to turn out to be a fantasy-within-an-SF story, which it wasn’t.

I’m still not sure about the things that Allemas forced Maire to bake – which are all tropes from famous fantasy novels. I thought that would be important (my theory was that Maire was trapped in a virtual reality game or something and that the customers for the magic baking were players or otherwise knowing participants in the VR). It turns out that that that particular thread just sort of fizzled out, which was a bit disappointing.

It’s about home and belonging and love, what those mean and what you’ll do to find and protect them. The core motivation which triggers all the events of the book (and which is a spoiler, so I’ll not talk about here) isn’t something that I’m particularly interested in, but it’s universal enough that it’s understandable, and, indeed, relatable, why Maire did what she did.

An entertaining book that kept me turning the pages, as desperate as Maire herself to find out her history and who she really was.

Book details

ISBN: 9781503935600
Publisher: 47North
Year of publication: 2016

The Lord God Made Them All (All Creatures Great and Small, #7)

By James Herriot

Rating: 4 stars

This book, like the others in the series, is just very pleasant to read. The war is over, Jim is back in Darrowby and back into his old life. This volume sees the birth of his second child, Rosie, and, although he’s mostly covering the post-war years here, we get a couple of jumps forward in time to the early ’60s as he travels with first a boatload of sheep to Russia and then a plane-load of cows to Istanbul. Both of these provide entertainment and excitement, albeit in different ways.

As always, Herriot captures the essences of the characters that he works with in a charming way, especially the Danish sailors he travels to Russia with. Speaking of eccentric characters, once again there’s no appearance from Grenville, and both Tristan and Siegfried don’t have much in the way of screen presence, and both show up in workman like roles, rather than for the eccentric stories we’ve come to expect. In fact, both have got married and had children off-screen, as it were, which is a bit disappointing, given that Tristan used to pretty much chase anything in a skirt, and Siegfried never had to chase at all, but was beating the ladies off with a stick, but never seemed that interested in actually capturing any of them. But in the end, it’s Herriot’s book, not that of the Farnon brothers, so he looks mostly at his own life and family.

It is the post-war era by this point, and antibiotics are starting to become available. This means that from my 21st century point of view, I twinge a bit in alarm at the casual way that Herriot prescribes penicillin and its successors. But of course, the dangers of that was hardly something that could have been aware about in the 1950s. The other thing that makes me cringe every time I read it is when he or one of his friends hops into a car after an evening at the pub. The don’t drink and drive message that has been drummed into everyone of my generation from an early age was still decades in the future at this point.

But despite these relatively minor issues, these books are gentle, wonderfully descriptive of the Yorkshire countryside, and a pleasure to read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330443555
Publisher: Pan Books (UK)
Year of publication: 2006

Elder Race

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tchaikovsky. I love many of his ideas, and he’s a great writer, but he tends to take his work in a much darker direction than I enjoy. After Bear Head and (especially) Cage of Souls, I thought I was done with him. And then I read the description of this novella, and here we are again. Except this time, it turns out I quite enjoyed it.

It’s a story of Lynesse, the fourth daughter of the queen, always getting underfoot and and in the way, who decides to take action against the rumour of a demon stealing people’s minds when her mother won’t. She invokes the ancient pact with the last wizard of the Elder Race, whose tower is nearby. Except Nyr isn’t a wizard, he’s an anthropologist (second-class), who’s observing the locals while he waits for relief from an Earth that’s gone silent.

The book is told in alternate PoVs between Lynesse and Nyr, as we see how the young woman from a medieval culture sees the product of a science millennia in advance of her own – truly a wizard from Clarke’s point of view, and how the still-young Nyr tries desperately to fit the fact that he’s helping her, while not expecting there to actually be a demon of any kind, with his breaking of the Prime Directive.

At the same time, Nyr is in the throes of very deep depression – he’s used suspended animation to sleep away over three hundred years, and still no relief has come from Earth. The loneliness and lack of purpose are crushing, so he relies more and more on technology that disassociates him from his emotions, so that he can function. And that, of course, comes with its own problems. And while he’s going through all this, he’s learning about this young woman, Lynesse, who awakened him and dealing with the deep communication barrier, not just of language, but of culture and understanding. More than once he tries to tell her that he’s a scientist, not a magician, but all she hears is “I’m not a wizard, I’m a wizard”.

The threat they end up facing is quite icky, with a reasonable amount of body-horror. We don’t learn as much about it as I would like, but it’s not that kind of book. While being in the quest format, it’s much more about cultural communication and misunderstanding, and dealing with mental health issues. Internal issues, not external.

So Tchaikovsky gets a pass with this one. I’ll still be approaching his work with caution though.

Book details

Publisher: Tordotcom

The Castle of Llyr (The Chronicles of Prydain #3)

By Lloyd Alexander

Rating: 4 stars

Princess Eilonwy is sent away from her adopted home at Caer Dallben to go and live with another royal family to try and teach her how to be a Young Lady. However, she barely arrives at the Isle of Mona, before she’s in danger, and it’s up to Taran, assistant pig-keeper, to ride to her rescue.

I had hoped that we’d get more of the active and feisty Eilonwy that we had in the first book here, but alas, she’s spirited away early on and the rest of the book is a quest to save her. It’s a shame that Eilonwy didn’t get more to do here. If the book was written today, she would almost certainly have rescued herself, but this is very much a book of its time.

By now, Taran is a far more mature character than he was back in The Book of Three, and even when he realises the depth of his own feelings for Eilonwy, he’s willing to put them aside for the greater good. It’s fairly clear that Taran is going to turn out to be more than just an assistant pig-keeper. Raised by an enchanter, befriended by a prince, and doesn’t know who his parents were? Please.

The core cast of the previous books joins Taran – Fflewddur Flam and Gurgi, and they’re also joined by Prince Rhun, the somewhat feckless, but good-natured, son of the royal couple that Eilonwy has been sent to live with. They have the usual adventures and everyone Learns A Lesson. I think that while the previous couple of books have been very much standalone, this feels like it’s setting things up for the future.

Eilonwy’s magical background is bought back here – she was introduced as being in training to be an enchantress back in book one, and that was hardly mentioned again until now, but it’s important here, and there are themes of what we choose to give up.

I’m enjoying the series and the characters – Fflewddur and Gurgi in particular are firm favourites – and look forward to Taran’s next adventure.

Book details

Year of publication: 1985

Kiki’s Delivery Service

By Eiko Kadono

Rating: 4 stars

Like many people, my first encounter with Kiki’s Delivery Service was the wonderful Studio Ghibli film, which I’m very fond of. I only found out about the book fairly recently and was curious to see what it was like. In overall plot, it’s much like the film – thirteen year old Kiki has to leave home as she comes of age and ends up opening a delivery service in a town by the sea.

The book adds several additional adventures for Kiki but doesn’t have the final setpiece of Kiki rescuing Tombo from a failing airship. It also doesn’t have Kiki losing her powers, although such events are referenced when she was younger, which may have provided Ghibli with the inspiration.

Of the additional stories, not in the film, I think my favourites were when Kiki delivered new year, and when she delivered spring. The idea of delivering abstract concepts is delightfully whimsical and really appealed to me.

There are some delightful illustrations, by Joe Todd Stanton peppered throughout the book. The text is quite plain, without much in the way of flourishes. I’m not sure if that’s an artefact of the author, given the age that it’s aimed at, or the translation. Speaking of the translation, I’d like to tell you who the translator is, but despite proudly stating on the back cover that it’s a “brand new translation”, there’s no sign of the translator anywhere – even the copyright page only saying that it’s “Translation copyright © Penguin Random House LLC”. Not cool, Random Penguin, not cool.

Much of the charm of the film for me comes in Ghibli’s visuals. Stanton’s illustrations are pretty, but don’t really provide the same sort of immersion. But taking it on its own merits, it’s charming in its own way, and a lot of fun.

Book details

ISBN: 9780241449486
Publisher: Puffin
Year of publication: 2020

Far from the Light of Heaven

By Tade Thompson

Rating: 3 stars

Michelle “Shell” Campion is first mate to the AI captain of the colony ship Ragtime. When Shell wakes up from suspended animation at the end of the journey, she finds the AI incapacitated and several passengers not just dead, but mutilated and dismembered. Investigator Rasheed Fin is sent by the colony world to solve the crime,

I love a good locked room mystery, so it’s just a shame that this otherwise intriguing book isn’t really one. I sort of feel that in a good mystery/whodunnit, the reader needs clues and to be able to play along with the detective, and I fear we didn’t get that here, where the solution to the locked room mystery is dropped into our laps with the introduction of a brand new character about three quarters the way through the book. The book also changes from locked room mystery to space survival horror part way through, which isn’t really my cup of tea.

There’s a lot of good worldbuilding, with an Afrofuturist vibe to it and some interestingly weird aliens. The Lagos system is trying to do things differently from Earth, working in conjunction with nature rather than wantonly tearing it apart. That sits somewhat uncomfortably with themes about what you’ll do to protect your own and what that means for the future.

I think the characters are really interesting – Campion is a model astronaut, uber-competent and stuffs her own panic down deep while there’s a job that needs doing (sort of reminds me of Granny Weatherwax not having time to bleed). Rasheed is a little bit of an Investigator-With-A-Hidden-Past, and Lawrence, the former test-pilot and somewhat washed-up governor of the system is probably my favourite. He knows his work and is happy to take orders to try and get everyone out safely.

Ultimately, while I think there’s a lot packed in here, it’s not the book I was expecting, and that disappointment tinges my view of the book, as well as the fact that it went into tropes that I don’t particularly like. A book with strong characters and well-written, but it didn’t entirely satisfy me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356514321
Publisher: Orbit UK
Year of publication: 2021

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